One of Beaufort County's three military installations won a national award recognizing its efforts to discover and document the history and culture of the area, according to a Department of Defense release.
Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort won the Department of Defense's Cultural Resources Management Installation award for 2013, following several projects documenting cemeteries and artifacts on the base property in Beaufort County and in Georgia.
Through the air station's Integrated Cultural Resource Management Plan used to study and maintain historical and cultural areas, eight cemeteries were documented on the air station property and thousands of acres proposed to be added to the Townsend Bombing Range in Georgia were searched for artifacts, the release said.
Using geographical information systems and ground-penetrating radar, a firm commissioned from Georgia identified 386 graves in the eight cemeteries, some dating as far back as the late 1700s, the release said. Two of the cemeteries were found to be family plots on former plantations, but the majority of the cemeteries were determined to be community burial sites of African-American slaves and freemen.
Since many of the cemeteries had fallen into disrepair over time, the air station is considering restoration or replacement of markers in the cemeteries and identification of unmarked graves, the release said.
Nine archaeological studies on private land near the Townsend Bombing Range in Georgia the air station uses for training uncovered artifacts that date back millennia, MCAS Beaufort public affairs officer Capt. Jordan Cochran said. Ceramic shards and projectile points indicate the area was occupied before 1550 A.D. and possibly as far back as 8000 B.C., Cochran said.
Cochran said other items were found from prehistoric times, such as stone shards, and parts of homes and farms from the 1800s and 1900s, such as brick, glass, ceramic and metal fragments. Cochran said the artifacts were documented and returned to the landowners once the investigation of the area was finished.
MCAS Beaufort commanding officer Col. Brian Murtha said in a statement he was proud of the work put in documenting the sites.
"I'm extremely proud of the incredible Marines, sailors and civilians I work with here to make these types of awards possible," Murtha said. "It is also with the help of the local community that we are able to help preserve the rich history and steward the unique environmental assets this area holds. Winning the award highlights the Air Station's dedication to protecting present and future military mission readiness and capabilities through effective and efficient environment management."
MCAS Beaufort isn't the first Beaufort County installation to win the Cultural Management Award. Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island won the 2005 award for their work studying cemeteries on the island and the Charlesfort-Santa Elena Site, a National Historic Landmark archaeological site of a 16th century Spanish settlement.
Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.